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PARIS, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Hundreds of high-school students protested in Paris over police use of force on Thursday, blocking the entrances to a dozen schools before heading to a banned street rally where riot police turned out in large numbers.
The protest was the latest of several, many in northern suburbs of Paris, since a 22-year-old black man was allegedly raped with a police baton during a Feb. 2 arrest in an area north of the capital where large numbers of immigrants live.
It comes two months before a presidential election where far-right leader Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant National Front party, is tipped to win the first round but lose the runoff that takes place on May 7.
The Paris school authority said more than 10 schools were affected by youths who piled up rubbish bins and other objects at the entrance gates; but it had had no reports of violence at the premises.
Social media networks, however, showed signs of skirmishes on the fringes of what appeared to be a largely peaceful rally in the Place de la Nation square in the east of the capital, where riot police in protective gear advanced on groups of mostly-hooded youths in sidestreet confrontations.
A helicopter flew overhead.
The Paris police department had warned people to stay away from a protest, saying it was not authorised and that there was a risk of violent groups causing trouble, as had happened over the last three weeks.
Four police officers have been suspended pending an inquiry into the Feb. 2 incident. One has been placed under formal investigation for suspected rape and three others for unnecessary use of force.
So far the protests have not snowballed to the extent of the unrest that 12 years ago drew global attention to the stark contrast between wealthy Paris and the suburbs that surround it.
The victim of the arrest that sparked the latest protests had a visit from President Francois Hollande earlier this month after being hospitalised for treatment of wounds to his anus and head and has called for calm. His family have said they have faith in the justice system. (Writing by Brian Love; additional reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey)